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Not Using DMARC Security Protocol Leaves Businesses Vulnerable to Spoofing

A global survey found that most business and government domains don't use DMARC, which opens them up to email spoofing.

Larry Loeb

July 29, 2019

3 Min Read

250ok took a survey look at the global adaption of DMARC, which is a security protocol that has been designed to prevent email spoofing. Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance works on top of email servers that already support the Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM). These protocols must be present and enabled for DMARC to function.

It allows admins to check on the "From:" address in email to verify it. The survey looked at the rate of adoption by various companies and segments globally.

They found 79.7% of 21,075 business and government domains don't use DMARC. Sectors analyzed included Fortune 500, US government (executive, legislative and judicial), the China Hot 100, the top 100 law firms, international nonprofits, the SaaS 1000, education, e-commerce, financial services and travel.

Since most are not using the protocol, they remain vulnerable to the spoofing of an email. While the survey shows that DMARC adoption rate is better than in previous years, it may be too little to be an effective barrier.

The survey found that Fortune 500 companies using DMARC policies had upped to 23%, which is still a relatively low number.

The executive branch of the US government stood in start contrast to this. In October 2017, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) binding operational order 18-01 required the Executive branch of the government move to a "reject" (reject mail that is unauthenticated) policy. It seems to have been successful in motivating their adoption of DMARC.

81.5% of domains were surveyed to have a p=reject policy, 0.7% at a p=quarantine and 4.4% at a p=none, leaving 13.4% of domains without any type of DMARC record.

The survey report notes that "The smallest of the government branches, Judicial, is way behind in adoption with only 17.3% of domains with any type of policy. Finally, the Legislative branch pulls up the rear with 13.0% of domains applying a DMARC policy."

DMARC adoption overall trended upward in this survey, with nearly 25% of all domains reviewed showing some level of DMARC adoption. The most likely conclusion is that the standard is slowly maturing. They also found that the not-for-profit sector worldwide is failing to embrace DMARC. NPOs are smaller organizations with budgetary constraints, and 250ok thinks that "implementation of wide-scale DMARC support when balanced against their other efforts is a secondary priority." The complexity of managing DMARC, the urgency to adopt a new standard and being budget friendly all play a role in low adoption rates for these groups.

The China "Hot 100" continues to be the least likely to adopt DMARC. This is the second year in a row that they surveyed this same group of companies and the survey found zero domains using a p=reject, though 250ok did note a slight increase in support for p=none and p=quarantine.

DMARC can help the fight against email spoofing. Each organization has to determine where this problem will fit into their own threat analysis, and work with the result.

— Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek.

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About the Author(s)

Larry Loeb

Blogger, Informationweek

Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek. He has written a book on the Secure Electronic Transaction Internet protocol. His latest book has the commercially obligatory title of Hack Proofing XML. He's been online since uucp "bang" addressing (where the world existed relative to !decvax), serving as editor of the Macintosh Exchange on BIX and the VARBusiness Exchange. His first Mac had 128 KB of memory, which was a big step up from his first 1130, which had 4 KB, as did his first 1401. You can e-mail him at [email protected].

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